Cable box died…again!


Around 10PM last night, I turn on the TV to watch a show.  I get nothing but a blue screen.  I check the connections and settings…everything is copacetic.  So I start the “rebooting” process that Bright House Networks cable customers are intimately familiar with…hold down the power button and hard-reboot the cable box.  

8 minutes later, the cable box rebooted and I had TV I settled down to watch.  As soon as I sat down…the screen flickered…and a message popped up that said “This Box is not authorized to receive cable signals”…so I rebooted again; this time by unplugging the box for 30 seconds and plugging it back in.  8 minutes later, the box was up again and I had a TV channel….then the box turned itself off.  I turned it back on only to get the blue screen (i.e. no signal going to the TV).  This time, I rebooted again…and 8 minutes later, nothing.  The box would not restore.

I called Bright House tech support and they walked me through the same thing I already did…reboot the box, etc.  Finally she said “just bring in the box and [we will] replace it.”  I swapped out the box this morning before work…at the UCF Bright House location. 

The main issue I have here is that this is the third box I have had to replace.  I can understand replacing one of them due to a power surge or something.  But three?  Instead of giving you a new box when you go in to the branch office for a swapout, they give you someone else’s [working] box that has been returned.  To make matters worse, Bright House recently switched from a local embedded OS architecture  (fairly quick) to a distributed architecture (painfully slow)…which is a LOT more error prone and a LOT slower than before.  The reasoning behing their architecture “upgrade” was to make things “more interactive”.   They turned your cable box into a thin client…and offloaded the processing on to its CPU. 

So what has changed about the Bright House architecture?   The old Bright House cable system utilized one of several available cable box models…either of these cable boxes was essentially a computer; it had an embedded OS, a hard drive and various inputs, plus a software upgradable firmware.  When Bright House conceived of their new distributed architecture, they replaced many of the older cable boxes and switched to a distributed OS and content…so the new boxes do not have local storage mechanism; all content and control comes from a centralized data center.  In the past, when you rented a movie on iControl, it was streamed to your local hard drive and then played back.  Now, that movie is streamed from a data center for direct playback from your box.  What this effectively does is adds several layers of potential failure to an already moderately unstable system.  Even though the Bright House network is on a fiber optic backbone, there is still a physical limitation on how far your cable box can be from its distribution service…so to get your particular cable box connected to that centralized source, you have to potentially traverse several edge hubs to reach a regional data center.  I saw the architecture diagram for the Bright House upgrade once, and it was not a pretty sight…and I don’t even pretend to understand the connectivity architecture.  But suffice to say that there is more to the connection than just having a coax cable come into your house to provide TV channels and interactive content.  

I will have to wait and see if this new box is any better than the last one.  It is a different model.  Same remote and power cable.  I don’t have high hopes about it.


One response »

  1. You left out the most important factor in this… USEFUL PRODUCT LIFECYCLE and the DEMANDS that the ACCOUNTING DEPARTMENT places on units costs per box…

    Basically, the boxes are cheap crap, and even with a designed life of use of a month, in the volume they buy, they still make their money. Plus, not many people can take off a day from work for their 8 hour window waiting for a service technician to show… but they make you waste your time and gas and risk a University of Central Florida parking ticket… to pick it up yourself.

    I have had the same problem with the different brands of cable modems I have had over the years… Think I have had 13 in this house alone! Pretty sad, but they get what they pay for… and a high failure rate is designed into their distributed system.

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